Besides classics like paraffin and beeswax, a new product, that appeared on the market a few years ago, has gained an ever growing worldwide success: Candle gel.
Candle gel is actually nothing more than mineral oil turned into a viscous gel with a special polymer (family of Vybar™).
Candle gel has two tremendous advantages: it is translucent and burns much slower than paraffin.
It is Penreco (now Calumet) (website: http://www.penreco.com), an US company with a chemical specialisation, that developped and owns the patent on this polymer (called CP9000). Its composition is, needless to say, a well kept trade secret.
All the informations that will follow about candle gel characteristics are related to candle gel produced and distributed by Penreco under the name VersaGel™C.
You may find on the market other brands of candle gel whose characteristics can be fundamentally different. If you're planning on using another brand than Penreco, I strongly advise you to contact the manufacturer and inform yourself about important data like temperature of use, flash point, scent addition,...
In every article on this site, when I talk about candle gel, I will always mean Penreco VersaGel™C
Penreco distributes candle gel under the name of VersaGel™ C. VersaGel™ is available in three versions called Grades:
- C LP grade (Low Polymer) (reduced polymer quantity)
- C MP grade (Medium Polymer) (medium polymer quantity)
- C HP grade (High Polymer) (high polymer quantity)
As the description hints, the main difference between the three grades is the percentage, high or low, of polymer added to mineral oil, which results in a candle gel more or less viscous (the higher the polymer percentage, the "thicker" the candle gel will be).
Each grade has its own advantages and disadvantages and you will need to select the most appropriate grade for the project you have in mind.
If you're just starting with candle gel and have no idea yet what kind of creation idea you'll come up with, be on the safe side and purchase a CMP grade candle gel (medium polymer). This grade gives good results for standard projects and is easier to work with when you start.
What candle gel grade should I choose?
If you're going to make a gel candle with no or little scent, VersaGel™ CLP will be just fine, as will the CMP grade. The latter will accept a greater percentage of scent, though.
If what you want is a strongly scented gel candle, you'll have to use the CHP grade. The same applies if you're going to embed items in the candle gel (only non flammable embeds. Be sure to read the section about candle gel safety further on this page).
Depending on the shape and size of the candle, it is possible, using a CHP grade, to create a self-supporting gel candle (one that does not need a container), or floating gel candles. This would be impossible with both other grades.
Before you run out the door and purchase a barrel of CHP grade candle gel, you need to know that the thicker the gel (and the lower the pouring temperature), the more numerous air bubbles will be in the finished candle. Air bubbles are one of the trademarks of candle gel and are a part of its charm. If it is possible to limit their number, it is on the other hand impossible to eliminate them completely.
Fundamental differences with paraffin
Although candle gel is made of 95% mineral oil (also named paraffin oil), the differences with the paraffin used to create wax candles are many.
Where aspect is concerned, we've just seen that candle gel is viscous (comparable to gelatine - or hair gel!). It also offers the unique advantage of being translucent, which allows for the creation of true than life displays and compositions, as the picture above shows.
Candle gel does not "melt" as easily as paraffin wax. So the double-boiler method is not indicated in this case. You can use a saucepan - from then on to be used for candlemaking only - and direct heat.
It is ESSENTIAL to leave a thermometer at all times in the gel and to stay next to the saucepan constantly.
As candle gel is no solid, we cannot talk about its Melting Point (MP), as we do for paraffin wax. The more you heat it, the more viscous it becomes. When candle gel reaches a temperature between 180°F and 220°F (82.2°C and 104.4°C), it should then be fluid enough to be poured into the candle container.
Candle gel, when burned in the context of a candle, burns "hotter" than an equivalent paraffin wax candle. The temperature of the melt pool of a gel candle can reach 280°F (137.8°C). That of a paraffin candle averages 180°F (82.2°C). This means you'll need to be very selective when selecting the containers you will use for your gel candles. Only glass containers with thick walls should be used, for your security and that of the person who will burn your candles.
Just like paraffin, candle gel does have a Flash Point (FP) of about 440°F (226.7°C)
How to add scent to candle gel?
Candle gel safety
One of the most important aspects of safety when working with candle gel is its combination with fragrance oils (FO). Once again, please take the time to read the article titled Fragrance Oils and candle gel for more information about this topic.
As I've said earlier in this article, one of the very nice features of candle gel is the possibility to create little displays, thematic or not, by placing all sorts of items in the gel.
Well, "all sorts", that's not exactly true! You need to be very cautious when you select embeds. Eliminate systematically everything that is potentially flammable, like dried or artificial flowers, plastic items, fabric, cereals,...
On the other hand, let your imagination soar by using glass figurines, stones, shells, small ceramics items or even molded paraffin shapes (if you make these yourself, always use a high melting-point formula).
Because there's so much to say about them, wicks will be discussed in another article but it's important to say that you'll have to use another kind of wick tab than you would for a paraffin-based container candle. As a matter of fact, tabs used with gel candles need to have a longer "neck", ideally 1 centimeter (0,65 inches). This precaution is in order to avoid that the flame would reach too low a point in the container where the small quantity of candle gel left and the high temperature melting pool would create a general ignition risk.
An alternative to a long neck tab is to pinch the last two centimeters of the wick inside a small metal tube. This will automatically put off the flame when it reaches the level of the tube. The same result can be obtained by threading two or three glass perls on the wick.
My goal here is to inform you about potential dangers and, through information, to let you avoid them. But your role is very important as well when you give away or sell a candle, whether you do to your grand-mother or to an actual customer.
Draw their attention on the fact that a candle, made with candle gel or paraffin wax, should not be burned for more than three hours in a row and that a candle is just like a baby: you should never leave it unattended.
Penreco has published an interesting booklet titled Gel Candle Safety Bulletin, containing all the informations you should know where candle gel safety is concerned.
Click on the icon to read the booklet.
a magnificent gel candle project